I suppose that I should start at the beginning. My name is Thomas. I was born in the late 1980’s and was raised in a small farming community in the southeastern US. The story has its roots when I was 15 and had just met who I had assumed to be the girl of my dreams. As it turns out, I wasn’t the boy of hers and when I was 17 she left me for my best friend. But I remained on good terms with her little sister Casey, who was four years younger than me. Casey had always looked up to me because her sister was a poor excuse for a sibling and even while I was dating her sister, I would always insist that we bring Casey along on our dates so I could spoil her like the little sister I had never had.
We had remained in constant communication over the past two years and I had helped her through some tough spots as well as I could, seeing that her sister wasn’t about to help anyone but herself, and Casey actually was a huge help getting my life together after my breakup with her sister, being the only person who would truly understand how much pain I was in. So I played the big brother to her and scared away most of the guys she liked( none would ever meet my standards) and she did the same for me with prospective girlfriends, never thinking any of them worthy to date her big brother. We saw each other a lot until I went to college and she was always excited to be picked up at school on a Friday by a hot older guy in a killer classic muscle car in front of all of her friends. Her parents never bothered us because after all, they had both thought me perfect for her older sister and therefore trusted me to be a caring helpful big brother to Casey and respected me for keeping her happy. I think they thought that I just spent time with her because I felt obligated, and didn’t really want to. They were wrong. Casey was like my little sister and meant more to me than anyone else ever had.
The story picks up with the completion of my first semester in college. It was December. I was nineteen and she was fifteen. It was a Friday night, my Finals were done, and I was headed to the farm that my grandmother had left me in her will, which was in the town that I had spent my entire pre-college life. We called it a farm, but the only thing that grew there was sage grass and it was really just a lot of land with a farmhouse on it. But everyone in town lived on a “farm” whether it actually was on or not. I was about an hour into the grueling two hour drive. I felt my phone buzzing in my pocket and turned down my stereo as I extricated it from my jeans and smiled when the caller ID read “Casey” and showed a picture her mom had taken of us the previous new-year. I answered with a corny joke as always and only got halfway through with my line.
“Thank you for calling Tommy’s pizza how-“ I was cut off by Casey’s tearful screams.
“GET AWAY FROM ME TANNER!!! I SAID NO!!!” At first I thought that she was yelling because of the loud music on her end, then I could tell by the sound of her voice that she was both infuriated and terrified.
“Casey what’s going on?” I asked in my best concerned/ composed voice, although I was very confused and scared.
“Zack? Oh thank God. I need-“I could hear glass shattering and my little sister shrieking. “-I need your help,” she continued, her voice teary. “I don’t have time to explain, just get to Tanner’s house as fast as you can. Are you close?”
Knowing I was an hour away if I stuck to the speed limit, and also knowing the speed capabilities of my ’71 Challenger R/T, I said, “Casey, can you give me twenty minutes?” She replied with a “probably” and then the phone went silent after a particularly violent crash.
“Shit,” I said to no one in particular. I floored my Challenger, calling on the full power of the 465 horses under the hood, on which were badges that read “426 Hemi” in bright red lettering. I made the trip in record time, and managed to avoid any law enforcement officials, which was handy, because It would have taken me precious seconds to shake them, and I didn’t know how many of those seconds I had to get to my Casey. I got off the interstate and blew through stop signs and red lights, not daring to glance at my speedometer as I quickly exited the lights of what passed for “downtown” here and got closer to the 95 acres that Casey’s current boyfriend, Tanner Blane, lived on with his parents. As I got to his driveway, I mentally prepared myself for whatever was going on here and in a second, went from worried, scared Thomas, to cool, collected and alert Thomas. I ran the length of the quarter-mile driveway in twelve seconds flat and slid to a stop in the front yard, ten feet from the front door. I got out with the engine still running, approached the house, and when I heard Casey scream and I narrowly dodged a baseball that came crashing through the porch window, I reared back and kicked in the front door.
Standing in the living room were two people: one was sixteen year old Tanner, shirtless and obviously under the influence of SOMETHING. The other was my little sister, wearing black and green Tripp pants and the remains of her favorite TWLOHA T-shirt, which had been reduced to shreds of cloth doing nothing to hide anything from the waist up. Her arms were doing their best to cover her chest, but for all intents and purposes, they were failing miserably. There were tears of embarrassment, betrayal, anger, and disappointment in her eyes when she looked at me, though her face lit up and she ran towards me. Tanner tried to head her off, but I was prepared for this and before he could take one step, he was knocked into the wall four feet behind him where he collapsed, unconscious, the print of my boot on his bare chest.
At this, Casey came running to me and wrapped her arms around me, crying into my chest and as she began to convulse, I feared that she was going into shock; but she was just crying that hard. She was in no position to walk, so after pulling my hoodie off of myself and onto her (both because she had no shirt and because it was nineteen degrees outside) I easily hefted her 4’9’’, 81 lbs. body into my arms and exited the house through the same splintered doorway that I had entered through. I walked directly to my car’s driver door, still ajar, and set her right next to me on the black, fabric bench-seat. From the time I had arrived at the house and exited my car, to the time I threw the Four-speed floor shifter into reverse and sped off, not more than sixty seconds had passed; and not a word was spoken.
I began to survey Casey as I drove, as soon as I hit the road, and noticed that although she was shaken and very pale, she seemed to be otherwise unharmed, nary even a bruise or a scrape; thank God. She looked up at me and threw her arms around me, the only brother she had, and continued to cry. I put my right arm around her waist and rubbed her side while I kissed her hair and promised her that it would be alright.
“I know sweetie,” I comforted. “I know. I can tell what was going on; you don’t have to talk about it.”
“No,” she sobbed, wiping her eyes with the super-long sleeves of my school hoodie. “I need to talk about it.” She continued as I nodded. “My parents went to Aspen for the weekend, and they left my sister in charge of me. I was just planning to spend the weekend at Tanner’s house, because his parents went to Tybee Island for the weekend.” She took a break to catch her breath and blow her nose on a napkin that had come out of my glove compartment. “I went home with him from school and we were having a good time, just making out and stuff, you know…” here she paused because she knew how I felt about her making out with boys, but she continued when she read nothing but concerned interest on my face. “At about five-thirty or so, he started drinking and he started to get handsy. He knew the rules that I had set, and he had always stuck to them, but not this time. When I said no, he came at me stronger, until he got really violent! Tommy, I was so scared…” She began to tear up again and just held her close while I found my phone and dialed the number to the local sheriff’s office, which I knew by heart.
Sheriff James A. Packard had been the sheriff in my home county ever since I was born, and In a county of just over 4,000 citizens, it was no surprise that the sheriff had gone to the same church as my grandmother (who had raised me) and I. I remember having Sheriff Packard over for dinner almost every Saturday night before my grandmother had died in my junior year of high-school. His wife and my grandfather had been killed in the same fire some fifteen years before my birth, so I think he and my grandmother felt a natural bond with one another. He was as “friend-of-the-family” as they came.
The phone rang twice before he answered. “Sheriff Packard speaking,” he said in his old, husky voice.
“Sheriff, It’s Tommy.”
“Tommy boy!” he said, dragging up my old nickname. “How the hell are you son?”
“I’m fine sheriff, but listen…” and I proceeded to tell him everything that had happened tonight, beginning with the phone call I had receiver on my way home, and ending with Tanner’s attempted rape of my little sister.
“You’re a good man, you know Tommy,” he said. “How you treat that girl. You know, if she were just a few years older… But as it sits, you are the best thing that she could hope for in a brother, you know son? Your grandma’ would be so proud… Anyway, I’ll get a unit out to the Blane farm and pick up Tanner. Are you taking Casey home?”
“Her parents are out of town Sheriff, so I was planning on putting her up at my place until they get back on Monday. I have plenty of food and stuff. Don’t worry about us.”
With any other people, in any other town in the world, the sheriff would have had me arrested for even suggesting that a fifteen year old girl shack up with a nineteen year old college guy for the weekend, but not here. Not us. No one had to worry about US.
“Ok, well you kids be careful. I know that you’re probably the best person to help her through this right now. I may come by on my way into work tomorrow to check up on ya’ll, but don’t be offended if I don’t, we stay kinda’ busy ‘round here these days.”
“Roger that sheriff,” I said. “I’ll give you a call tomorrow. Good night”.
When I closed my phone we were pulling into the driveway, which stretched for more than a mile past wide rolling pastures that had not grazed livestock in over fifty years, and woods that held numerous tree-houses from my youth. It still didn’t feel right calling this “My land”, even though it had been legally mine since I was emancipated when my grandmother died. I was just seventeen and a junior in high-school. My mother had died a few years following my birth in an auto accident, and my father had never been in the picture. Since my mother was an only child, as was my grandmother, I was left in my grandmother’s custody. On her deathbed, which she was on for a painfully long four months, we talked a lot, her and I, about my becoming my own guardian if she passed before my birthday. We signed all the papers and it became official when she died. I had become a legal adult at seventeen, which gave me rights to go ahead and collect my inheritance, which in addition to the farm, had consisted of a few million dollars worth of investment portfolios and a sizable trust fund that while wasn’t enough for me to live like a king for the rest of my life, ensured that I would never have to worry about money if I budgeted well.
We pulled into “my” garage, which was my grandmother’s sixteenth birthday present for me. It consisted of five bays, three of which had vehicle lifts. If you couldn’t find the right tool in that garage, you didn’t belong anywhere near a car. The garage was ported for cable and high-speed internet and had a small office that had sort of become my bedroom during those last years… I loved working on cars and this was my grandmother’s way of showing that she approved of my hobby. When we finally reached the house, we exited my car and went inside.
The original farmhouse had been built on this land sometime in the mid 1800’s and had burned to the ground around forty or so party goers in 1974, the fire that had killed my grandfather and so many others that night. My grandmother, while never selling the farm, and my mother had then moved to Florida and didn’t move back until my mother became pregnant with me in the late 80’s. They had a new, modernized farmhouse built towards the back of the property line and we all moved in when I was two. My mother died shortly after, so then it was just me and my grandmother in this huge, three-story farmhouse with a finished basement, full –finished attic, four enormous bedrooms, a home theater complete with a 72” front projection television and many other modern additions. I had since added a few modifications myself, including glassing in the rear deck and equipping it with a comfortable hot-tub and the only HD television in the house, besides the 52” 1080p in my garage. And I had converted the Theater into more of a living room.
After losing my grandmother to cancer and my girlfriend to a cross-country running backstabber in the same month, I had needed something to distract me, so I had often thrown parties here on the weekends during my junior and senior years. The house was cool, but it wasn’t designed to host parties, so the modifications were necessary.
I got out of my car, and was proud to see that Casey giddily hopped out under her own power, through my door. But then she jumped into my arms and I easily, and quite happily, carried her into the house. Since I was the only one who lived here and I hadn’t been home in over a month, it was quite cold in the house. Knowing that the only thing protecting my little sister’s upper body from the sub-zero temperatures was my thin hoodie, I ran her upstairs to the second story, where the bedrooms were located. She had always had a bedroom here, ever since we had first become close, years ago. I stood on the landing outside her door and nudged it open, all the while not daring to put her down, for fear I would lose her in the dark, cavernous hallway that ran the length of the second floor. Once inside the bedroom, I felt for the light-switch and upon finding it, sat her down in front of the now visible closet door. She got really excited upon seeing her closet and had apparently forgotten about how much I used to spoil her when I was still living here full time. Inside the closet, which was large enough itself to play a game of half-court basketball, were entire walls filled with clothes of every brand, shape, size, color and designer; shirts, pants, skirts, dresses, sweaters, vests, jackets, pantsuits, swim-suits, Halloween costumes and shoes; OH THE SHOES!!! I don’t care who she is, I have never met a girl who would turn down my buying her a pair of shoes… or 200 pair. There were boots, heels, flats, flip-flops, sandals, slippers, ore boots, tennis-shoes, running shoes, Cons, Vans and essentially any other kind of shoe one could dream of. This closet had become furnished right about the time that I couldn’t afford that new BMW Z4, and probably blue-booked somewhere in the range of $45,000 dollars.
“I have been wanting to come here for SO long!” Casey giggled. “I’m going to put on something put on something really warm!”
“Dress in layers,” I warned. “I’m going to get the heater going tonight and by tomorrow morning it’s going to be freaking toasty in here!”
Casey nodded and turned, closing the closet door behind her as she entered. It had been quite a few months since I had seen this room so I took the time to re-familiarize myself. Against the opposite wall from where I stood was a massive king-sized four-poster bed, complete with a canopy of pink lace that draped down and completely encased the entire bed in a transparent pink tent. In the far corner of the room stood a 42” rear projection HDTV and the most elaborate surround system that best-buy had had in stock the day that I bought it. On the wall to either side of the TV were shelves that held literally thousands of CDs, which were all duplicated of ones that I had purchased for her room at her parents’ house, as were many of the shoes in the closet. Every square inch of free wall space in the room was covered with posters of bands, movies, actors and actresses, and pictures of her close friends and family. As I completed the tour of the room, I heard the closet door open and turned to see Casey K. Conner, reborn after being submerged in a pure fashion environment for 15 minutes. She had taken my advice and dressed in layers, the outer layer consisting of black sweat pants that were two sizes too big and a matching top, proportionately grande. Her short brown hair was down and loose around her neck, and for the first time, I noticed that my little sister was quickly on her way to becoming a woman. She had always been old for her age, her home life being sketchy at best and horrifying at worst. Her parents were neglectful and not understanding in the least, but at least they trusted me with her, having enough sense to see that she was truly happy when she was with me. Not because I spoiled her, but because I truly loved her more than anything. And I think she loved me too. And standing here in front of me now, her body was beginning to catch up to her mind. Even hidden behind the sweats, I could tell that she was a knockout. No wonder Tanner wanted her so bad, I thought to myself. But as long as she was here with me, she was safe. I would protect my little sister with everything that I had, even if I was protecting her from her own growing beauty.
The rest of the night went by very fast. I made us dinner after I got the house started back up again, and we watched Underworld: Evolution in the “living room”. It was one of our favorites. As the credits rolled, I looked over to see that Casey was fast asleep, looking more like an angel than any human being that I had ever seen. I took her into my arms as gently as I could and took her upstairs for the last time that night. I thought I had managed not to wake her, but as I laid her down in her giant bed, she stirred and I heard a tiny groan escape her lips.
“Don’t leave me alone Tommy,” she pleaded while still mostly asleep. “I really need you close to me right now.”
“I understand sweetie,” I assured her. “I will sit right here on your bed until you are fast asleep, okay?”
“No,” she said coyly, almost playfully. “I need a teddy bear!” and with that, she took me totally be surprise and was able to pull me down to where I was laying directly beside her, in the middle of her giant bed. Then she rolled over to face me and buried her hands and face in my chest in a desperate attempt to stay warm. I was a little uncomfortable about sleeping with Casey, but I knew that she hadn’t meant anything more than innocent by it, so if it didn’t bother her, I was fine with it. My last conscious thought before drifting into dreamland was that her hair smelled like fresh strawberries, still growing in the vine. My first dream took place in a never ending field of strawberries.